Nailah B. currently a Campus Reporter blogger at SYA France. Nailah comes to SYA Deerfield Academy (MA). Read more of her work throughout the year here.
Dear Future SYA Juniors,
Congratulations and welcome to the SYA family! In just a few short months, you're going to embark on the journey and adventure of a lifetime. Yes, there will be a few trials and tribulations along the way, however, there will be an even larger number of triumphs and transformations that will together render you the best version of yourself you've ever met at the end of your time in Rennes. As our time here wanes, I, along with my good friend Danielle who is writing an open letter to seniors, would like to impart a few insider tips, tricks, and pieces of advice to help your transition into life abroad as smooth as possible.
1. Let go of the old you
In order to maximize your personal growth abroad mentally, emotionally, and linguistically, it is imperative to let go of the life you lead in the United States. No matter how hard it might be at first to let your Snapchat streaks go, having one foot in and one foot out during this year will only hinder your ability to grow here abroad. And trust me, the mantra distance makes the heart grow fonder is not at platitude, indeed, when you return to the United States, the friends and family you thought would forget about you will be right there to embrace you. You'll be able to pick right back up from where you left off as a changed, enlightened, and fluent in French version of yourself.
2. Try new things – get involved with the community
Despite being some of the most adventurous, open minded and fearless juniors in the country for merely applying for this program, upon arriving in your new city you will be beset by the shock of independence – the taste of adulthood that will hit your taste buds hard and will try to overwhelm you. Don't let it. Take advantage of your first month or two to push yourself even more. What would this look like? Take me for example: I love track and field, so I immediately joined a local club and train in Rennes. I've made friends that I hang out with outside of practices and that help me with my French. I've also always been interested in art but never had the time in my schedule at my Massachusetts boarding school to take art seriously. Seeing SYA as the ultimate year to do anything and everything my heart desires, I take an hour and a half long art class at a community center every week. I took a cooking class; though I am in no way shape or form a cook – I just figured when in France, learn how to make macaroons, n'est pas? I also teach four through six-year-olds English at the local école maternelle. This may sound like a lot, but at the beginning of the school year, juniors don't have quite as much on their plates as our senior counterparts – while seniors are in college application mode for the first half of the year, we're in freedom to live mode. Take advantage of the fall and acclimate yourselves well with your new life and schedule because come spring, you want to be comfortable enough to dedicate time to SAT and ACT prep as well as summer program applications.
3. Make time for your host family
One of the most rewarding aspects of SYA is the lifelong bond you will establish with your host family. Your host mom and dad will become your second parents and your host siblings will become your real siblings. That being said, these relationships will take time and effort to cultivate. Be willing to make time sacrifices for them, as they will for you. Sunday especially is a time for you to get to know each other better. Most French families dedicate Sunday's to visiting extended family and having lunches that last the entire afternoon. It is in these moments that not only are meaningful connections made, your mastery of the French language and culture will be the byproduct of these interactions as well. For this reason, try to get the majority of your work done before Sunday afternoon. You may think school work is the center of your world at this moment, but trust me; you will without a doubt regret having chosen to finish your Art History project over going for a run with your host mom or accompanying your host sister to the market to pick up groceries. When the year begins to come to a close and you begin to reflect on the breadth of your accomplishments here in Rennes, you will be glad that you managed your time well to be able to experience all of the above..
4. Don't be afraid to ask for help
These nine months will be the most rewarding nine months of your life. However, what will often come hand in hand with your greatest moments of euphoria and pride will be moments of downfall and challenge; though there will be quite a few, life here in Rennes will not always be fresh baguettes and pain au chocolats. You will have moments of struggle and pain that will try to debilitate you and take away from your experience here. Don't let them. Turn homesickness, that first B- you get in French Lit, the inability to explain to your Capstone project to your host mom, the fight you had with your sister, and the countless other moments of strife you will encounter here into moments of self-reflection and learning. SYA will provide you with myriad resources to ensure that transitioning into life in Rennes is as smooth possible, and even once you are comfortable in your new life, you will have access to people and organizations to turn to such as faculty advisors at SYA, a therapists, as well as academic tutors, When you need help, merely ask. Don't let unhappiness or discomfort in any area of your life abroad fester and develop into something larger. Address itf from the beginning and keep it moving.
5. Carpe Diem et Profite Bien!
Seize the day and have fun! The stress of a junior year is one that all American high school students anticipate. On top of that, your brilliant, adventurous, worldly souls have added learning a new culture and language to the stress of the college applications process that is on the horizon. For that, I, and arguably the rest of the world, applaud you. You have already conquered the most difficult feat of spending your junior year abroad: deciding to spend your junior year abroad! From the moment you board the plane to Charles de Gaulle airport come September, to the moment you're giving your host family their final bisoux come May of next year, savor every moment, learn as much as you possibly can (and then learn so more), step out of your comfort zone (and I mean way out), embrace change, live, laugh and love like you never have before, and above all, carpe diem et profite bien!
This year won't just be a study abroad experience, it will be a life experience that will shape you and your future in ways you never thought were possible, never be able to imagine. So again, Felicitations, to you all – the incredible SYA France Class of 2018 and bon courage!